Monday, July 20, 2009

Mod Minn(ies) : Ralph Rapson’s Glass Cube

I am inspired by all that is modern. From thinly profiled chairs to urban skylines, I am riveted by finely detailed elements shaped by modern masters. In many cases the real genius of material is best expressed at the smallest scale. Here in Minnesota we have a wonderful tradition of careful modernist detailing, and in Mod Minn(ies) we will seek out those homegrown modern morsels.

For me few regional architects exemplify modern Minnesota more than our beloved Ralph Rapson. Perhaps his greatest small project was the Glass Cube cabin which he built for his own family in 1974 as a retreat from their busy life in Minneapolis. This personal project freed Rapson to experiment with a modern vocabulary without the normal constraints of urban planning and public opinion. It was modern architecture sans the nags of professional realities. To Rapson the countryside of Wisconsin was an unadulterated intellectual wilderness waiting to be explored with new ideas of home. Rapson felt strongly that the expanse of the country provided the ideal setting for modern ideas, stating in his recent book "I always thought a country house should be different from a city house." He believed that “In the country, the modernist would prevail.”

The family chose a forty-acre parcel in Amery, Wisconsin, just outside of Minneapolis. The site is shaped by the Apple River which winds through its pine woods and pastoral meadows. According to Rapson’s son Rip, many design iterations were considered until finally Rapson pushed away from more traditional ideas of buildings and dissolved the walls with glass. The cube was positioned on the back of the tallest hill to provide 360-degree views of the land below, while also taking advantage of cool cross winds for ventilation. Although the idea of the glass house was not new at the time, this glass cabin’s mastery draws more from its gentle positioning within the landscape and the way large walls open to the outside, while the floors are suspended inside, invoking the feeling of floating in the rural scenery surrounding the house. No doubt this tiny glass box held many kernels of inspiration for many of our modern sustainable houses of today. It is simply a Mod Minn(ie) masterpiece.

Do you know other examples of great modern cabins or other tiny mod structures in the region? Please post your examples to be considered for the next installment of Mod Minn(ies).